On Aug. 18, The Garden Island ran a story about Auntie Sarah’s 105-year-old
Chinese banyan tree at Nawiliwili. One thing that wasn’t mentioned in the
story: According to police, the tree was apparently set on fire deliberately. A
large portion of it was badly charred.
Those of us who are trying to help
save the tree have a number of reasons for wanting to do so.
anything that has lived such a long time deserves a lot of respect. Second,
it’s impossible not to admire such a survivor, after being smashed by
hurricanes Iwa and ‘Iniki, chainsawed, and now incinerated by punks, the tree
keeps coming back and flourishing. Third, it’s beautiful. Fourth, the whole
thing is as much about Auntie Sarah as it is about the tree.
Malino Kailikea is 89 years old, almost 90, and a lot sharper than many people
half her age. She remembers visiting in grass houses when she was a little
girl, and listening carefully as her aged kupuna passed on to her old Hawaiian
wisdom that is possessed by very few today.
Auntie Sarah is a living
treasure, and so is her banyan tree. Those of us who love her dearly would do
anything for her, and because she loves that old tree so much, we will do
whatever we can to try to save it for her.
In addition to all that, the
banyan is the last living link to George Norton Wilcox, who planted it in 1895
at the bottom of the hill upon the top of which Kaua’i High School now
Wilcox arrived on Kaua’i as a 7-year-old boy in 1846 with his
parents, who were stationed at Hanalei as missionaries. After studying
engineering at Yale, he returned to Kaua’i and went into the sugar business.
Beginning in 1865, he built Grove Farm into one of the leading sugar
plantations in Hawai’i.
Active in politics, he was also a visionary who
brought modern technology to the island and was the driving force behind the
construction of Nawiliwili Harbor, which was completed in 1928. At the age of
91, he inaugurated air service to Kaua’i in 1930.
Wilcox earned millions
through his various businesses and investments, but is best remembered for the
millions he gave away to charity, primarily the areas of education and health.
In addition to the many good causes regularly supported, he would, every
Christmas, send checks to friends, destitute families, churches of all
denominations, schools, hospitals, missions and orphanages.
He died of
cancer at age 94 in 1933. Wilcox Memorial Hospital is named after
Auntie Sarah knew Wilcox when she was a girl and remembers him
“G.N., that’s what everybody called him, was a kind man. He gave so
much to so many children to further their education and never asked for
anything back. He was humble and quiet and easy to talk to. Down to earth.
Approachable. He talked to everybody freely and helped anyone who needed it. He
was a good and generous man and very open-hearted to the Hawaiian people,”
Auntie Sarah says.
Because Wilcox was a man worth remembering, Auntie Sarah
would like to see his banyan tree preserved as a living memorial in his
Incidentally, Auntie Sarah has written a mele as a tribute to the
tree. Her CD was recently released and is available at the Kaua’i Museum gift
Anyone interested in helping Auntie Sarah save her tree is asked to
call Carol Lovell, 245-6931 or myself at 822-1781.